DETROIT (Sept. 13, 2000) - Points leader Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) is in a strong position to clinch his first North American auto racing title this weekend at Gateway International Raceway where the Dayton Indy Lights...
DETROIT (Sept. 13, 2000) - Points leader Scott Dixon (Invensys/Powerware/PacWest Lights Lola) is in a strong position to clinch his first North American auto racing title this weekend at Gateway International Raceway where the Dayton Indy Lights Championship makes a return visit after a one-year absence.
A 79-lap (100.330 miles) Dayton Indy Lights sprint on the 1.270-mile Gateway oval at 11 a.m. local time on Sunday will set the stage for the featured Motorola 300 FedEx Championship Series race that runs later that afternoon. The Dayton Indy Lights race will be telecast on ESPN2 late Sunday night (early Monday morning, Sept. 18) at 1:30 a.m. ET (10:30 p.m. PT Sunday).
Dixon, 20, has won a series-leading five races and could be the first driver since Cristiano da Matta in 1998 to wrap-up the Dayton Indy Lights crown two races before the end of the season. Gateway is Round 10 of twelve races on the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship trail and will be followed by Round 11 in Houston, Oct. 1, and the season finale at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Oct. 29.
Dixon heads to Gateway with a season-high 42-point lead in the championship and needs to gain just two more points on the competition to clinch the title. Any combination of finishes that has Dixon leave Gateway in front by 44 points - the maximum available in the final two races - will give the New Zealander his fifth auto racing title in seven years. Following CART's point system, an Indy Lights race win is worth 20 points with single bonus points awarded to each race's pole winner and lap leader. Ties are broken by total race wins, which gives Dixon, the year's only multi-race winner, the edge. The son of race-car driving parents Ron and Glenys Dixon, Scott Dixon was a champion go-kart driver in Australasia as a child and won his first auto racing title in the New Zealand Formula Vee series when he was given special clearance to compete at the age of 13. He went on to win a pair of Formula Ford championships and the 1998 Formula Holden title, a Formula 3000-based series, before moving to North America and the Dayton Indy Lights Championship last season. Dixon won from the pole at Chicago with Johansson Motorsports and finished fifth in the championship.
This season he moved to PacWest Lights to form a combination that has set the standard from the beginning of the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Championship season. Dixon won the year's opening races at Long Beach and Milwaukee and regained a points lead he briefly lost at mid-season with a repeat win at Chicago. Victories the past two weekends at Vancouver and Laguna Seca, respectively, have all but sealed the title.
Dixon can clinch the championship with a race win at Gateway, a likely scenario considering his recent dominance on short ovals. He is riding a streak of three-straight wins on short oval tracks like Gateway with victories at Chicago this year and last split by a win at Milwaukee in June. In those three races, Dixon has led 234 of 294 combined laps, won two poles (Chicago '99 & Milwaukee) and set two fastest race laps (Milwaukee and Chicago '00).
Six other drivers remain mathematically alive in the championship, but only three have a remote chance of catching Dixon if the leader should falter at Gateway.
Dixon's nearest challenger is top rookie Townsend Bell (DirecPC Lola) who won at Mid-Ohio last month and earned his first pole at Portland in June. He went into last Sunday's race at Laguna Seca 21 points behind Dixon only to endure his first bad weekend in Indy Lights. The Californian had a pair of accidents in practice and was uninjured in a third contact incident in the race after coming together with Derek Higgins (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola). He failed to finish or score points for the first time since his debut race at Long Beach but maintains second in the championship and the lead in the Rookie of the Year race with 92 points.
Brazilian Felipe Giaffone (Hollywood Lola) and Bell's Dorricott Racing teammate Casey Mears (Dorricott Racing/Sooner Trailer Lola) trail Bell by a single point and are tied in the championship in third place. Both are having career-best seasons, but even that may not be enough to catch Dixon.
Giaffone won his first race in four years of Indy Lights competition at The Detroit News 100 at Michigan Speedway and has earned three more podium finishes and poles at Michigan and Vancouver. He finished fourth at Gateway in 1998 and returns with the same Conquest Racing team has ran with for three seasons.
Another multi-year veteran, Mears won his first pole last weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway and led the opening race laps before Dixon passed for the lead and win. Mears held on to finish second at Laguna and also earned runner-up honors to Giaffone at Michigan. He also led his first career race laps at Chicago.
Rookies Jeff Simmons (KOOL Lola), Jason Bright (Dorricott Racing Lola) and Dixon's teammate Tony Renna (Motorola/PacWest Lights Lola) are distant championship threats who will likely shift focus to closing out the year's final three races on a high note rather than thinking about the championship.
Simmons, who recorded his third third-place finish of the season Sunday at Laguna Seca, has already indicated that his goal is to catch Bell for Rookie of the Year honors. His other top-three showings were at Portland and Vancouver.
Bright, who won at Portland, is another threat for the rookie title although he challenged for the overall championship earlier in the season. The only driver other than Dixon to lead the point standings, Bright left Round Five at Michigan one point clear of the field only to be sidelined with a back injury practicing at Chicago one event later. Being on the sidelines for that race and a finish out of the points at Vancouver after being caught up in a start accident basically eliminated Bright from title contention, but he is a threat for rookie honors.
Renna has been strong on short ovals all year and led the first part of the Milwaukee race before retiring with mechanical trouble. He also finished third at Chicago and Michigan.
The year's only other race winner is reigning Rookie of the Year Jonny Kane (KOOL Lola) who was eliminated from championship contention after Laguna Seca. Although Kane dominated from the pole to win at Detroit, he has endured an up-and-down season, and his championship bid never recovered from missing the Chicago race after a qualifying accident left his race car beyond repair for the weekend.
Iowa resident Chris Menninga (Mi-Jack Lola) won his first pole at Chicago but has had a tougher time in races. He was running second at Chicago when he and Mears came together late in the race. Menninga's top 2000 finish was fourth at Milwaukee.
Bell, Mears, Simmons, Renna and Menninga are part of a series-high entry of eight Americans entered at Gateway. Brothers Geoff Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) and Andy Boss (Cross Pens/Lacoste/ITIS Lola) and 100% Navajo Native American Cory Witherill (WSA Healthcare Lola) complete the U.S. line-up.
Mexico also has a strong entry of five drivers set for Gateway, a group led by 1999 Miami winner Mario Dominguez (Herdez/Pegaso/Quaker State Lola). Dominguez is eighth in the championship with 58 points and has a season's best finish of third at Milwaukee. Other drivers from Mexico heading to St. Louis include veteran Rodolfo Lavin (Corona/Modelo/SportsYA.com Lola) and rookies Luis Diaz (Quaker State Lola), Rolando Quintanilla (Telmex/Prodigy Internet Lola) and Rudy Junco (Mexpro/PrecioBase.com Lola)